A good friend recently coined this phrase, and it got me thinking about how some people struggle to find the aromas and subtle flavours in whisky that are often discussed at a tasting session. You can see them time and time again sniffing the rim of the glass, mind racing to try to grab some comprehension leading them into a dizzy panic that they are not getting it along with the others in the room.
I am often asked “how do you get that aroma, when I don’t”
It is true, that not all of us are cut out to be tasters. Is it nurtured or nature? Well I believe it is a bit of both really. Everyone has the capacity to taste the glorious combinations present in a dram, or any beverage for that matter – alcoholic or not, it is just some of us have trained ourselves in how to do it better than others.
I smell everything; from fruit just bought from the supermarket, to spices in the kitchen at home. I need to, it’s my job to lock away these sensory answers for future use. Take a bag of sugar for instance even by reading those words, you have probably imagined something in you mind. Was it a kilo bag of Tate and Lyle castor sugar, the ubiquitous accompaniment to a cup of tea, or perhaps you imagined a small pile of White granulated sugar in a bowl. The thing is, when talking about sugars, it can be a multitude of expressions, all with very different aromas and tastes. Caster, unrefined, icing, brown or molasses. Then the next level of state; caramel, toffee, fudge etc. All very different, all very recognisable if they were to be placed side by side and tasted individually one after the other.
The same can be said for so many of the elements within scotch but it takes a little bit of effort to recognise them and draw them out. After all, if everyone could do it easily, I would not have such a busy work life!
At last nights tasting session, I had just such and individual, struggling glass after glass to understand and recognise the make up of the whisky in front of him. And I could see him struggle, see him begin to panic and head towards “Analysis Paralysis”. It would have been easy to have bulldozed on, turning my attention to the rest of the room but I took five minutes to focus on this one guest, explaining how the aromas would get in there in the first place, guiding a little towards the simpler notes, offering suggestions of food stuffs that he knew before asking him to try again. We don’t all go around sniffing dying bonfires, overripe bananas and the like…..but it does help if you do!
Next week, my sensory receptors will be on full attention as I pop back to the home land for a week and visit some distilleries again. Balvenie and Glenfiddich are on the cards and both of these superb distilleries will no doubt offer up another full notebook of ideas, smells and sights to further bolster my wee brain. But of course, the smell of a malting room will not be something I use as a suggestion to any sessions I do soon- that would be unfair. I will keep that for the more professional side of my business.
The dram most people grabbed onto last night was The Glenlivet 18 yr old. A superb and, hopefully for some time to come, a great value whisky for all to enjoy.
For what it’s worth, here are my notes:
Appearance: copper golds and deep amber
Nose: immediately rich and honeyed, deep fruit notes of raisin and sultanas with dried apricot thrown in for good measure. A more delicate sniff reveals marsh mallows (the pink ones) and a dusting of icing sugar. Below that, nutty almonds and marzipan with a malty cake element, those cooked fruits again of cherry and plum feature. Gorgeous warm vanilla and spices of clove, mace and nutmeg surround the oak that never overcomes the overall experience.
“Christmas cake in a glass”
Palate: Beginning with that full feel of a rich, sweet spice dram, it coats and fills the mouth with wondrous abundance before the vanilla and mixed fruits come forward. Interestingly, the letter part, just before the finish, brings up a phosphorous lick that helps put a leash on the sweetness before it becomes overbearing.
Finish: chewy and delightful, lingering elements from all of the above continue to wash in and out, but it’s that drying phosphorous element that intrigues the most.
Another glass ? Yes please.